In the two-plus weeks since Don Lemon announced he is gay in tandem with the release of his new memoir, 'Transparent,' the CNN anchor has received both kudos and criticism.
The praise is geared toward the courage it took to openly embrace his homosexuality as a public figure. The criticism lies mainly with the language Lemon used in his announcement. Lemon told the 'New York Times', where the news of his announcement first broke: "It's quite different for an African-American male...It's about the worst thing you can be in black culture. You're taught you have to be a man; you have to be masculine. In the black community they think you can pray the gay away." Lemon also mentioned black women specifically, expressing his concern "that black women will say the same things [about me being gay] as they do about how black men should be dating black women."
We spoke to Lemon recently about those comments and his perspective on homosexuality in the black community, how life has changed since becoming an openly gay public figure and the women who still have a crush on him.
Jozen Cummings: How long did you know you were gay before you came out so publicly?
DL: I say in the book, I've always known I was gay. I think the exact quote in the book is, "Since I was knee high to a duck I've always known I was gay." I had crushes on boys - it wasn't in a sexual way, because kids aren't that way, they don't really know, they just know they have a crush on someone. I don't remember the first person I came out to, but I didn't come out to my mom until I was 30 years old.
JC: Did you ever get a sense others knew before you said anything?
DL: I didn't assume people knew or didn't know, but it's not something I ran around talking about. My colleagues at work who were closest to me or who I happened to have some sort of personal relationship with outside of work - they knew and we discussed it.
JC: How has life changed for you since you came out?
DL: Well, personally, it's been overwhelming. For a second there, it was like, 'Whoa, what's going on with my life?' Professionally, I'm not quite sure because it's only been a week and two days. You'll have to ask me in a year or three years or five years or 10 years, what actually happens. In some odd way [it has] turned out the exact opposite of what I thought. I thought I was doing something people ultimately would think I shouldn't be doing.
JC: In what ways did you think this was going to be a detriment?
DL: Anyone who has been in my position and who's gay and who's thought of coming out and either done it or not done it, has actually thought it was going to be detrimental to their career. That's why they haven't done it. Think about how many people you have out in broadcasting, in professional sports, in acting - people are worried about it. It's how our culture has been sort of groomed. And I have to say this, because I'm talking to you, aren't you a black journalist?
DL: So quite honestly, Jozen, there are people who are mad at me and say, "Oh you're throwing black people under the bus." No I'm not, I'm black, I live in the world as a black man, and I know how our culture thinks about homosexuality. You think about those things too as a black man, like, what are black people going to say about me, am I going to have the support from my base, which is black people, and if they turn their backs on me or they get upset with me, then what the heck am I going to do?
JC: Isn't it fair to say it's not just black people who have issues with homosexuality? When you came out, a lot of people read your remarks about the negative reactions anticipated from black women as somewhat of an attack.
DL: Black women are saying the same thing about me as they are saying about black men dating white women, I stand by that. All you have to do is read the blogs or go listen to the radio shows I've been on. When I've been on black radio shows [the subject of black women] inevitably comes up every single time. When I sit on white radio shows or have been interviewed by journalists who are not of color, it never comes up. So I know it's something that we need to talk about. I am a black person! Let's not forget that, and I know what it's like to be a black person, I know what our issues are. I'm not throwing anyone under the bus. I know white people have issues with homosexuality as well, but when you're looking at people who are out in the community and making a difference when it comes to gay issues, it's usually white people and white men - wealthy white men - who are on the forefront of that.
JC: But others have been supportive, have they not?
DL: I've been overwhelmingly surprised by the positive support in the African American community. People have come through and been amazing. I am grateful for that.
JC: Black women?
DL: You know what's funny? Women are like, "I don't care if you're gay, I still want to marry you. I can still fantasize, because I wasn't in a relationship with you before, so I'm going to keep my fantasy going." You should read my feed on Twitter or Facebook. I think women get it. People appreciate honesty and that's what I'm walking in.